City, Port of Bellingham like lobbying partnership despite mixed results

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJuly 5, 2013 

Local government officials said after this year's state legislative sessions that one head is better than three when it comes to lobbying.

The mayor of Bellingham and the executive director of the Port of Bellingham said they gained an advantage by partnering with each other and with Whatcom County to bring a unified message to lawmakers.

All three governments were represented by the Olympia firm McBride Public Affairs, although the port did some of its own lobbying. The city, port and county got mixed results on their list of priorities for the sessions, which opened Jan. 14 and didn't end until June 29.

Bellingham was recommended to receive $6.3 million for construction of its sewer treatment plant, but the money was left out of the final budget. That's the sort of government investment that pays off in jobs and sales tax revenue for the city, said Mayor Kelli Linville.

"I believe balancing the budget on construction dollars is probably not a good idea, but I also know they probably didn't have a lot of options with the Supreme Court ruling on education," she said.

The court decision required the Legislature to increase funding for public education, so an additional $1 billion in the $33.6 billion, two-year state budget went to schools.

Another priority, a bill that would have allowed for longer visits by out-of-state boats, also failed.

"We were very disappointed that that didn't pass," said port Executive Director Rob Fix.

Transportation goals also weren't met. The Republican-controlled Senate chose not to consider a $10 billion transportation package at the end of the final session. Federal grants that piggyback on state support also could be lost.

"It's not good for any local government that relies on federal and state spending," Linville said.

On the positive side, the county secured state funding for a fourth Whatcom County Superior Court judge - although some of the credit went to Judge Charles Snyder, who traveled to Olympia himself to pitch the additional judge.

Also, an effort led by Sens. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, and Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, reformed the toxics cleanup law to get money to cleanup projects faster.

"Bellingham was the poster child for this," Ranker said. "Sometimes it takes years for a permit to get approved. In Bellingham's case, for one permit for cleanup it took nine years."

As the cleanup money has stacked up, unused, it has been taken every year by the Legislature to help balance the general budget, Ranker said.

"The two senators worked on a broad bill that would protect the cleanup money for our projects," Linville said.

County Executive Jack Louws was out of the office this week and unavailable for comment. The lobbying firm is scheduled to report to the Whatcom County Council on July 23.

The firm was an extra expense for the county, which typically doesn't have a lobbying presence in Olympia. The city is saving money on the shared arrangement after spending $10,000 a month on lobbying in 2012. Each of the three governments pays McBride $2,500 a month on a contract that extends to the end of this year.

Linville and Fix both said they would recommend to their council or commission that the lobbying partnership continue next year.

"Everything I heard from folks in Olympia was how valuable it was that we were at the table at the same time, with the same priorities in a very cooperative effort," Fix said.

Reach RALPH SCHWARTZ at ralph.schwartz@bellinghamherald.com or call 715-2298.

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